Although I had a full agenda – planning on seeing many talks, films and people, I had to put everything on hold for two days as I became the only photographer allowed to photograph one of the festival’s most prestigious guests, HSH Prince Albert of Monaco. The task, fairly easy, and on behalf of BLUE, was to follow the Prince during his two-day visit and capture on film key moments. Laura Orthwein, co-founder of BLUE, and Dan Laffoley from IUCN, were the two people from the festival and conservation summit, responsible to accompany him and manage his stay. The three of us quickly became best buddies as we manoeuvred our way through an exhausting 48 hours.
After the official introductions, the first stop was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where Julie Packard, Executive Director and Vice Chairman of the Aquarium’s Board of Trustees and Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator were waiting to give the group a private tour.
Built in 1984 and located on the site of a former sardine cannery, the Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits some of the most stunning marine installations in the world. The Kelp Forest exhibit, a 28-foot (8.5 m) tall 333,000-US-gallon (1,260,000 l) tank is an impressive reproduction of the typical California Coast environment where shoals of pacific sardines mingle with leopard sharks, garibaldis and California sheepheads. The real long giant kelp in the tank grow an average of about four inches a day and require weekly underwater gardening by scuba divers. The Open Sea exhibit features a 1,000,000-US-gallon (3,800,000 l) tank with a 15-foot high and 90-foot across window that is simply breathtaking. Blue fin tuna, green sea turtles, ocean sunfish, dolphinfish, Pacific bonito, pelagic rays, sandbar and scalloped hammerhead sharks all swim in perfect harmony while a shoal of Pacific sardines moves around the tank in unison, often forming a giant hypnotising ball.
The visit was splendid. Besides the regular exhibits opened to the public, we were also shown the “behind the scenes”, the installations responsible for making this “Tour de Force” possible – what a treat is was! We even had the privilege of having one of the onsite scientists telling us more about the famous sea otter. For the occasion, one specimen was under anaesthesia so that we could have a first look at the marvellous creature.
The visit was followed by the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit. HSH Prince Albert was scheduled to appear on a panel discussion alongside Celine Cousteau, Dr Sylvia Earle, Dr. Greg Stone and Dr. Jane Lubchenco and discuss the issue of ocean sustainability. The Prince also took the occasion to visit some of the featured exhibitors. His first stop was at the Google Liquid Galaxy display where Jenifer Foulkes gave a wonderful presentation. Then famous National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, who had his work exhibited, told the Prince the story behind some of his shots. The team at Catlin Sea Survey followed by showing him the technology responsible for creating some of these incredible panoramic underwater shots seen earlier at the Google Liquid Galaxy.
Meanwhile, on the floor at BLUE, plenty of action was happening! The day started with a keynote presentation of Dr.Sylvia Earle. At lunch time, Carl Safina’s movie “Saving the Ocean” played on the big screen. Legendary filmmaker Doug Allan talked to a captivated audience about his numerous adventures across the oceans and on both poles. If that was not enough, the International League of Conservation Photographer closed the day by holding their cocktail reception. Michele Westmoreland, Brian Skerry and Octavio Aburto were there to represent the organization. The event was called “12 SHOTS”, named after the number of photographs publications will generally allow to tell a story.
HSH Prince Albert started the day with an inspirational keynote speech. One of his main points was about the people who are in the position to influence the markets, whether they be celebrities, royalties, or corporate CEOs. They have a responsibility to do more so that the system can correct itself. The danger he said was that if they don’t use their privilege situation for the common good, nobody else will. Politicians certainly won’t!
The rest of the morning was filled with insightful presentations. Dr.Ingrid Vesser showed her film “The Woman Who Swims with Killer Whales” and reminded people to support her latest project – FreeMorgan, a tragic story of an orca recently sold to a private park in the Canaries. Google hosted a wonderful lunch at the Sardine Factory. Sea Rex 3D played on the big screen. The movie, produced by Pascal Vuong and Francois Mantello went up to won in the festival’s “Best 3D” category. One of the highlights of the day came right after lunch. Hosted by O-I Glass is Life, the panel, composed of Amber Valleta, Celine Cousteau, and Edward James Olmos, looked at how to leverage the power of celebrities for good causes. Also on stage were Patrick Ramage of Global Whale Programme, who works with Amber on various campaign, and Casey Ingle From Glass if Life, who reached out to Celine to become their ambassador. Olmos presented is latest involvement with the “Thank You Ocean” campaign. His public service announcement went on to win in the festival’s “Best PSA” category.
Later in the afternoon was the screening of Great Barrier Reef: Nature’s Miracle. Produced by James Brickell at BBC, the documentary is absolutely amazing. The host Monty Halls does a great job at delivering the material. It is always refreshing to see a host that is not self absorbed like so many currently out there. It is hard to pick my favourite part of the movie, but I suggest you read Halls’ interview in the Daily Mail to find what it was like to swim with minke whales and be on the beach when thousands of green see turtles marched up the beach to lay their eggs. The film went on to win in the festival “Best Presenter Lead” category
The evening was to be a grand night – the BLUE Legacy Awards! Hosted at the Monterey Aquarium, the evening was indeed nothing short of grandiose! First were the Awards. This year, Captain Don Walsh and James Cameron were the recipients of the BLUE Lifetime Achievement Award, in exploration and filmmaking respectively. Anatoly Sagalevich did the honour of giving Walsh his award while Dr.Sylvia Earle was full of wit celebrating her really good friend Cameron. Mike DeGruy, who unfortunately passed away in a tragic helicopter accident earlier this year in Australia, also was honoured. His wife Mimi, received on his behalf, the 2012 Dr.Sylvia Earle Award.
For the dinner, first the guests had to make their way pass the Jellyfish exhibit, displaying with a blue background, astonishing and fascinating species. Above the bar, anchovies swam in circle feeding on minuscule particles, their little jaws un-proportionally huge filtering the water. The dinner was set right in front of the Open Sea tank, only a few feet away from blue fin tuna swimming like giant bullets through the dark blue water. The scene was absolutely surreal. It was as if we were all dining in a giant glass submarine, in the middle of the open ocean, surrounded by stunning creatures. I was sitting next to Dan Basta director of the office of National Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA, and Dan Laffoley. On several occasions, our conversation got interrupted by a green sea turtle swimming by. Looking at us from across the glass, floating motionless, with its imposing size, as big as the table, it reminded us on how fortunate and privilege we were. Needless to say, the night was a huge success!